[imgcontainer right] [img:lee-judges-cartoon-archive.jpeg] [source]Lee Judge/Kansas City Star[/source] Kansas City’s cartoonist, Lee Judge, on food inspection policy. [/imgcontainer]

The Senate passed its Postal Service overhaul bill yesterday, 62 to 37. 

The bill would give the Postal Service $11 billion (of its own money, by the way, overpaid to a pension fund) to use for buyouts and early retirements, as the Postal Service tries to reduce its workforce. The bill would also disallow any rural post offices closures in the next two years. 

The Postal Service can still close some post offices, just none in rural communities (right away, anyway) and none anywhere before November (when there is an election). The bill also sets up an appeals process for communities that suffer a post office closure.

Feelings about the bill were in the “better than nothing” category.

Save The Post Office has a story up now on “why postal reform will fail.” Mark Jamison writes

By any meaningful measure, whatever postal reform bill emerges from the current legislative process, it will be insufficient to staunch the flow of blood draining from the Postal Service.  More likely than not, the bill will facilitate the destruction of a national treasure by strangling the principles that support its existence.  Postal reform is going to fail because Congress cannot understand the fundamental role of a national post as essential infrastructure.  

Joseph Adelman, a historian, picks up Jamison’s theme in an Atlantic piece arguing that the “Postal Service is a civic institution, not a business.”

Adelman traces the history of the Postal Service, saying that we shouldn’t reform the system without understanding where it came from and the “government’s role in protecting the free circulation of information.” He concludes: 

In the 18th century, the government committed itself to guaranteeing the free flow of information throughout the nation as part of a project to ensure mass participation in civic life, linking the Post Office with the protection of a free press. The decline in mail volume points to a certain inevitability about the commercial success of the USPS. But more broadly we must carefully consider the value of publicly owned, freely available channels of communication. Should the Post Office cease to exist, we will lose the last public guarantor of free communication in the United States. 

• Senate Democrats will not accept Republican demands that approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline be part of the federal transportation funding bill. 

“Personally, I’m not — I’m not one of the conferees — but personally I think Keystone is a program that we’re not going, that I am not going to help in any way I can,” Reid told reporters. “The president feels that way. I do, too.”

The pipeline has become a major issue in the current presidential campaign. Republican nominee Mitt Romney said last week, “I will build that pipeline if I have to myself.”

• The Federal Communications Commission said its new Connect America Fund will have $300 million to be used to extend broadband connections to up to 400,000 unserved homes. The money comes from changes in the Universal Service Fund, established to extend telephone service to unserved areas. 

FCC chair Julius Genachowski said the new program will “continue our work to unleash the benefits of broadband for all Americans, regardless of where they live, and consistent with fiscal responsibility.” 

• Ken Ward Jr. is running column after column about the costs and future of coal. For instance, here’s a column from yesterday about American Electric Power’s long term plan to move away from producing electricity with coal. AEP figures that nationally the amount of electricity produced by coal will continue to dwindle. 

Ward notes:

But most importantly, you don’t hear much of anything out of West Virginia’s political leaders about their plan for dealing with the coming reductions in coal production from the state’s southern counties.

Or, today, Ward has another good column on the real costs of energy production. The point is that consumers don’t pay for the full cost of energy — for the streams that are ravaged, the air fouled, the lives lost in mining.

•Kelly the Kitchen Kop gives us her update on the great Michigan swine controversy. 

• The USDA is searching for the calves of the California cow found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. The agency is also seeking herd mates of the infected animal. 

The cow had an “atypical” strain of BSE. It didn’t contract the disease from feed. (The primary way cattle contract mad cow is by eating contaminated feed containing leftover bovine material, added to increase protein levels, according to DTN.) 

This case of BSE appears to have arisen on its own.

• The mad cow case in California is leading to more calls for mandatory animal tracking

“The United States is one of the few beef-producing countries that does not have a mandatory animal identification system that enables it to trace a cow from birth through the slaughterhouse and beyond, though a proposal has been in the works for years,” wrote two Washington Post reporters. 

Yonder readers may remember the revolt several years ago in rural America when the USDA proposed microchipping every animal. The agency backed off of that plan, and is now allowing each state to come up with its own animal ID program.

• The Senate Ag committee is meeting today. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow canceled a markup session for Wednesday, but the committee is back to work today. 

The markup is being broadcast live here

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